Background

We covered the main education provisions of the Education and Adoption Bill (“the Bill”) previously (click here).

The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, has confirmed the policy of her predecessor, Michael Gove, of seeing academies as the vehicle for transforming school performance and children’s life chances.  Whilst the Bill will enable all schools rated inadequate by Ofsted to be turned into academies, it  will also give the Secretary of State the power to make an Academy Order to convert a “coasting” maintained school into an academy. 

A month after the publication of the Bill and immediately before the Commons Committee Stage of the Bill the Secretary of State unveiled the definition of a “coasting” school, referring to the latest Academies Annual Report as evidence of the positive impact academies are having on young people’s life chances.  A school will be deemed as ‘coasting’ if it is regarded as performing at a new “coasting” level for 3 years in a row.  Whilst exactly how many schools will fall within this definition will not be known until 2016, it is estimated that nearly 1,200 schools could be affected.  This is in addition to the 1,000 failing schools expected to be turned into academies as the result of being rated inadequate by Ofsted between 2015 and 2020.

Definition of Coasting

The definition will be included in regulations and is set out in the DfE Press Release (click here): 

Primary schools will be classed as ‘coasting’ if:

  • for the first two years, they have seen fewer than 85% of pupils achieving level 4, the secondary-ready standard, in reading, writing and mathematics, and have also seen below-average proportions of pupils making expected progress between age 7 and age 11; and 
  • for the following third year have performed below a ‘coasting’ level set against the new primary school accountability regime.  This regime “will see pupils being expected to achieve a new and higher expected standard and schools being measured against a new measure of progress”. Details are here.

Secondary schools will be classed as ‘coasting’ if:

  • in 2014 and 2015, fewer than 60% of their students receive at least 5 A*-C including English & Mathematics, and they are below the median level of expected progress; and
  • in 2016, they fall below a level set against  the Progress 8 measure. Progress 8 is the new secondary school accountability system designed to measure the level of progress made by pupils between primary schools and their GCSEs.  Progress 8 will be implemented from 2016.  By 2018, all secondary schools will be judged against their Progress 8 scores in the previous three years and the definition of “coasting” will not have an attainment element.

Impact of the new definition

The Government hopes that the proposed “coasting” level will significantly raise the bar for primary and secondary schools.  Currently, primary schools are regarded as falling below the floor standards if less than 65% of pupils achieve level four in reading, writing and mathematics.  The floor standards for secondary schools are currently set at 40% of students achieving 5 or more A* to C GCSEs including English & mathematics.  Schools that are deemed to be coasting will be required to produce a credible improvement plan and will be turned into academies if it is not considered that they have the capacity to improve.

Based on the examination and SATS results in the previous 3 years, 774 primary schools (5%) and 405 secondary schools (13%) would be classed as ‘coasting’ under the new definition.  This includes four schools that have been rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. 

The proposed definition has already led to debate and claims that a number of secondary and primary schools rated “good” by Ofsted could also fall within the “coasting” definition; that secondary schools in more affluent areas will be more likely to avoid being deemed as ‘coasting’, even though some able students at these schools may not be pushed to reach their full potential; and that the proposed definition does not take into account socio-economic factors.  It is likely that some governing bodies at affected schools will want to consider the possibility of mounting a legal challenge to use of the intervention powers.

As the Bill moves through Parliament we will continue to issue updates on any further significant developments.